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IT leaders need to get paranoid!

Posted on August 15, 2017 by Innovation Executive Forum

A group of IT executives joined us in Toronto to discuss the major innovation trends and challenges facing them today. What follows is a breakdown of their most useful, enlightened advice, including:

  • 3 easy ways IT can improve user experience
  • Staying paranoid — and other surprising innovation techniques
  • Why security pros shouldn’t bank on protection alone

3 easy ways IT can improve user experience

You don’t have to be Apple to keep up with the demands and expectations of end-users. According to the members of the IEF in Toronto, businesses of all sizes can make a huge impact to their customer and employee experience with a few simple, easy to execute strategies.

1. Remove friction: IT leaders can achieve a lot by finding opportunities to speed up and simplify the way users engage with you.

The bulk of what we do to improve user experience is eliminate friction,” said one IT leader.

In fact, entire industries are being built on exactly this principle. IEF members pointed to the rise of mail-delivered subscription businesses, such as Harry’s Razors or Dollar Shave Club, which eliminate the hassles of leaving the house to shop.

2. Augment workers with Artificial Intelligence (AI): Consumers will always need the “human touch,” but you can actually do a better job delivering that personal connection by using artificial intelligence to augment your workforce.

An example shared at the table revealed how AI is being used in finance, with fintech companies deploying robo brokers to give out quick and personalized investment advice at a fraction of the cost.

And if you are thinking that AI is an expensive, complicated set of technologies your business can’t afford — you are wrong. There is a wave of simple, affordable and open API’s, platforms and SaaS products hitting the market, from Amazon to Microsoft and hundreds of startups in between.

3. Put customers in center focus: It sounds redundant on the surface, but if you want a better user experience, design your products with the user in mind. Too many IT leaders fail to do so.

If we can make our customer’s life easier, we see that as a business opportunity, said the IT leader of a publishing company, explaining how his team prioritizes new projects. 

One industry putting customer experience first is healthcare, said another IEF member, sharing the example of a personalized medicine delivery service called PillPack. Another IT leader said his company applied this user-focused principle when rolling out Workday HR software. They made actual users part of the solution design team to ensure successful adoption.

3 surprising ways to stay innovative

If you want to be innovative, you are going to act, well… innovative!

Here are a few of the out-of-the-ordinary tactics IEF members shared, which will help any organization deliver more creative solutions to drive change.

1. Embrace paranoia: In a world where complacency means going obsolete, IT leaders should be constantly looking over their shoulders for threats, said the executive from the entertainment industry.

“It’s good to stay a bit paranoid,” he said.

He explained it’s paranoia that allowed his company to re-invent itself and survive in an industry under-assault from the Internet and streaming services such as Netflix. Today, his cinemas offer virtual reality arcades, sports bars, restaurants and numerous alternative entertainment offerings.

Five years ago, we were a movie theatre company,” he said. “Today only 70 percent of our revenues depend on movies because we have diversified.

2. Create a start-up: While it’s impossible for traditional businesses to completely adopt innovative start-up practices, you can do the next best thing: create a start-up inside your existing business.

Commonly referred to as a “Skunkworks,” businesses can unlock innovation by creating an independent, isolated lab dedicated entirely to creating new ideas and breaking the old status quo. Skunkworks is part of the larger business, but they act alone — they take risks, try new things and as a result come up with ideas that would be impossible to foster in the traditional confines of the enterprise.

Disruption is going to happen, so let’s make sure that we have a division that’s focused on innovating and disrupts us first,” said one technology leader.

IEF leaders cautioned that this approach might create solutions that cannibalize the business. Others were quick to point out: perhaps that’s not such a bad thing. Innovation means leaving the old behind, after all.

“You have to be courageous enough to cannibalize your own revenue and business model in order to advance.”

3. Focus on solving the problem: Finally, if you really want to create innovation, stop focusing on finding the right solution. Take a couple of steps back and focus on the problems. While no one likes working with someone constantly focused on what is broken, it can be a truly powerful strategy for the innovation professional.

Innovation and disruption rarely come from ideas, they come from problem solving,” said one IT leader. 

 Further Reading: Disruptive Planning: Four Actions CEOs Must Take To Stay Ahead Of Disruptive Forces

For today’s security pros, detection > prevention

The dream of protecting your business from security threats is officially dead.

This was the message in Toronto, as technology pros urged businesses to switch their focus away from prevention to more effective strategies. There are simply too many devices, end-point weaknesses and sophisticated threats to confidently prevent breaches. As such, the only practical response in today’s modern security climate is to focus on detecting and monitoring those threats, as quickly and effectively as possible.

“Security these days is such a hot topic, but in reality it’s very hard to do everything at times,” the CISO of a multinational travel company said.

The concept these days is that you cannot defend all of your assets, you just have to monitor them and essentially detect very quickly that something is happening.  

To get ahead of the threats, IT leaders need to be leveraging a variety of technologies to strengthen their detection abilities, IEF members said, such as: leveraging machine learning and automation, hiring managed service providers with expertise, or moving assets to the cloud.

Further Reading: Security Focus: Why detection and response holds the key to corporate data protection

Final thoughts

Three big lessons emerged from the IEF members in Toronto:

  • Take advantage of quick and easy ways to improve end-user experience, such as AI integration
  • To be innovative, you can leverage alternative approaches, such as Skunkworks
  • No security strategy is complete without a focus on detection

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